12 August 2010

FWS Book Review: OLD MAN'S WAR

(This is the Japanese cover for Old Man's War, posted here:

Old Man's War is one of the new classics of Military Science Fiction by Mr. John Scalzi, published in 2006 by TOR Books.
This book was recommended to me by a friend at work, however it was not until after reading the preview on Google Books that I ran down to Barnes & Noble to buy it.
I  know that I coming to the Old Man's War party late, all the dip and good beer is gone...but I deeply impressed by this book. Like all the book reviews on FWS, this is meant to simple and to the point, on what works, and what does not.

Old Man's War tells the story of a 75 year old John Perry who signs up for the Colonial Defense Force, Earth's off-world colonial armed forces, and meets new and interesting alien species and kills them.

Not enough could be said about the Old Man's War central plot and concept. Both are original and in the hands of a lesser writer would simply not have worked.
For example, the way that the Colonial Union and Earth interact is original, believable, and mysterious. This works in concert with the overall concept of a galaxy where humans and alien species battle over habitual real state is clever, and is something both Nigel and I have discussed many times. 
Most authors cannot write realistic aliens. Mostly they are too rooted in the tried Star Trek  tradition of being too human and/or being on some pointless quest for their inner humanity. The alien races in the Old Man's War crowded galaxy are truly foreign and view humans as walking Steak-ums. 
Mr. Scalzi sets himself further apart from the pack of military sc-fi writers (myself included) by developing Nanotechnology for the  primary weapon of the Colonial Defense Force, the MP-35 which on page 133 of the book, uses "high-density nano-robotic ammunition".
This is one of the rare examples of Nano-based weaponry in sci-fi, I praise Mr.Scalzi for that and the MP-35 being an Omini-Weapon,similar in concept to the Fifth Element's ZF-1.
Mr. Scalzi proves himself to be a first rater writer, by skillfully adding hard military action, clever dialog that sparks with humor, and heart.


The book starts off slow, taking too much time to get the main character, John Perry, into the Colonial Defense Force, coupled with some odd information-dumps that slow down the beginning pages.
In addition, somethings the dialog is self-serving, and makes them cardboard, like when the Henry Hudson is described. This slows down the flow between the characters, thus ruining a chance for the character to tell me about the ship from their point-of-view, not the author's.
Another area of disappointment was in the names that Mr. Scalzi assigns to colonial worlds, ships, and towns.
He is a brilliant writer, there is no doubt of that, and his overall imagination is first rate. However there is nothing remarkable or interesting about these names.
Another small point was during the 2nd Battle for Coral, one of the main characters suffers a head wound from rocky debris from a rocket strike (page 299).
Now, the soldiers in Old Man's War are re-engineered masterpieces of technology, that use nano-based technology to kill and protect.
But the soldiers don't wear helmets?
Added to this is the overall CDF military, which appears to have nothing in the way of armored vehicles, close air support, and/or heavy weapons for the infantry. It seems that the CDF have not bothered to developed that technology that 21st century armies possess currently.


Without a doubt, Old Man's War is one of those rare novels that possess few flaws, one of these is the CDF's primary infantry weapon, the Multi-Purpose-35. 
However, the MP-35 used for a real world gun, the 3rd Reich Maschinenpistole 35  (or Machine Pistol 1935), a 9mm SMG, that looks like a rifle-version of the British Sten.
My question is why would Mr.Scalzi use the name of a real-world Nazi gun for a 23rd century weapon?
Another small point is the cover art of the paperback done by John Harris. This is a fuzzy mess that remains me more of a sci-fi cover art fronm several decades ago.
To make matters worse, he also did the rest of Mr. Scalzi's books. The first edition art by Donato Giancola was much better, and the cover art for the Japanese version (see above) is the best.


At present, there is no plans for a Old Man's War  movie, comic, Anime,  and/or Manga. Of course, there are three other books in the Old Man's War series.


I cannot say enough great things about this book. It has heart, soul, humor, and brutal combat scenes that were downright grim. E
verything you could want.
Not since the Forever War has there been a military science fiction book this good.


  1. I was hugely disappointed by Old Man's War. I expected something like "in The Future, robots are so good at fighting that there's basically no use at all in sending actual humans to go fight, so humans take the role of commanders and basically play Starcraft. Since microing and APM are also handled better by machines, the best commanders are old folks who've seen it all and are deadly sneaky and crafty. The series explores how combat might work in a world where humans don't do it; do commanders identify with their troops when those troops are faceless machines? Do they experience stress from engaging in war, and how does that look when there's no personal danger?"

    What I got was a nerd's body-swap fantasy. Bleh.

    1. HALOJONES-FAN: Why would you have thought that's what the book would be about? The description was nothing like that.

      I like the Old Man's War books well enough (I've read...three of them, I think?)

      The Good: John Scalzi's probably the best wordsmith when it comes to Mil-SF. Comparing the writing in these books to say, just about anything in the Baen roster is not even fair. Couple that with the fact that he's also better at coming up with SF concepts than the average Mil-SF writer and it makes for a fun read with more depth than most books in the subgenre.

      The Bad: he's not great at doing action, especially in the first book. Which isn't as big a deal as all that, seeing as how the books don't have that much of it in them. If he could collaborate with David Drake, who IS really good at writing visceral, ground level action scenes (but not as good at the Science part of science fiction) I think that would be a recipe for the best MilSF books ever written.

      THe Ugly: I don't do that, I'm just doing conclusions.

      Conclusion: Fun reads, pretty good books, but better straight SF with some military elements than full-fledged Military SciFi (which focuses on the military elements, just in a SF setting.)

      Addendum: It was called the MP-35 because John Scalzi's clearly not a gun guy. He knew enough that "I can't call it M-16 or AK-47" and put together a combo of alphanumerics (with the MP standing for MultiPurpose) that he thought sounded good. Kind of like the rifles in Space:Above and Beyond being called 'M-590' even though it sounds like the abbreviation for Mossberg 590.